President John F Kennedy overstated his case in his inaugural address in 1961, when he said: “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

President George W Bush made the same mistake last week when he said: “The evil and hatred that inspired the death of tens of millions of people in the 20th century is still at work in the world. We saw its face on September the 11th, 2001.” Bush, dedicating the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, said 100 million people died because of that ideology. Nevertheless, some of those deaths were caused by American overreaction to its conflict with the Soviet Union, the focus of Kennedy’s Cold War rhetoric in his 1961 address.

Kennedy talked tough at first, but his handling of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was a masterful blend of threats, military actions, and concessions. In 1963, he negotiated the first treaty to limit nuclear weapons testing. Bush seems too inflexible to abandon Cold War mimicry. His successor will need to learn from the seasoned Kennedy, who in 1963 addressed America’s adversaries as fellow human beings with whom he could reason. “Confident and unafraid,” he said, “we labour on... toward a strategy of peace.” — International Herald Tribune